Vacation Sunset

Take a vacation. Get a raise.

In Leadership by Stephen Zakur0 Comments

Vacation Sunset

“…for the first time in recorded history, more than half of Americans (55%) left vacation days unused”

More and more Americans are not taking their earned, paid vacations. We’ve all seen this behavior in the corporate world. It’s the “work martyr” syndrome. Hard working, ladder climbers don’t take vacation because only losers take vacation. Winners work. You can almost hear Blake saying “A-B-W. A-Always. B-Be, W-Working. Always be working” But evidence shows that taking time off is a trait of winners. Not only does it make you happier and more productive, but taking time off can put more money in your paycheck.

The Evidence

According to new research from Project: Time Off Americans left 658 million paid vacation days unused last year. While some of those can be rolled over for the future, 222 million of those days were lost. Gone. Forever. That’s the equivalent of two days per worker being squandered. And it’s not just the benefit to the worker that’s lost. All those vacationing workers would have spent $223 billion on vacations. And that would have created 1.6 million jobs.

Project: Time Off has illustrated in the past the importance of time off. It yields higher productivity, more positive attitudes and increased happiness. But these things are hard for businesses to quantify and if you’re acting like a pure economic animal there doesn’t seem to be anything in it for you. The economy benefits. Employers benefit. But how does this help you? How does this get into your paycheck?

It turns out that being the work martyr makes is less likely that you’ll get that big raise or promotion. According to HBRand Project: Time Off, “People who took fewer than 10 of their vacation days per year had a 34.6% likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus in a three-year period of time. People who took more than 10 of their vacation days had a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus.”

Let’s linger on that for a moment: People who use more of their vacation time are almost twice as likely to receive a promotion as those who use less vacation time.

Plan Ahead for Maximum Results

Just getting away doesn’t cut it. According to research done by Shawn Scott and Michelle Gielan ,in order to maximize the benefit of vacation you have to do it right. Poorly planned getaways can lead to more stress and diminished benefit. That sounds like we’re turning vacation planning into work, but it’s really not all that difficult. Here are the factors that research has found to yield the greatest vacation benefit.

First, plan well in advance and focus on the details. Haphazard plans can lead to stress once you’re on the ground. That’s the opposite of what you need. And preplanning also allows you to visualize the awesomeness.

Next, go far away. In this connected world you can’t truly unplug, but a change of scenery has value. Go far. In fact, leave the country. Just don’t go somewhere you don’t feel safe.

Finally, make social connections while there. If you know someone local or can meet with a guide you greatly reduce the stress of being in a new place. Less stress equals more value. There’s less for you to figure out and more time for you to focus on the experience.

Just Do It: Lead

As leaders, we need to be modeling correct behavior. That’s everything from encouraging people to take time off so that they’re more productive to taking vacation ourselves.

A few years ago I took a new job. It was one of those turnaround situations. While there was lots broken in the organization and with the business model, it was clear the leadership team was burned out. Nobody maximized their vacation. Most parsed it out in long weekends or days off for doctor’s appointments. One guy saved all his vacation time to the end of the year effectively taking the month of December off.

Everyone needed to get their vacation house in order. They needed to recharge. And that guy who took a month off, well, you can imagine what I said to him. Yes, the team needed a new path to recover performance. Some of them wouldn’t make it. But those that stayed would never get to the top of their game if they were exhausted and their souls were depleted. They started taking vacation.

Just do it: Vacate

I took two consecutive weeks off this year for the first time in a decade. I’d like to say it was a conscious decision but it just happened that a planned vacation was right up against another invitation that came in a few months ago. It was awesome. I came back with all the things that one personally wishes from such a thing — relaxed, focused, energized.

Even if you don’t buy any of the “soft” reasons for taking a vacation or you don’t believe that vacationers actually get the raises the data suggest, from a pure economics perspective it just doesn’t make sense to leave vacation days on the table. They’re a benefit. Take the money. Take the vacation.

“Let us ask you two questions to make this idea come alive: Would you do your job for free? And do you take all your vacation days? If you say no to the first, you had better say yes to the second.”

See you on the beach. Or the mountains. Far from work.

About the Author

Stephen Zakur


Steve Zakur is a technology and operations executive who transforms organizations into digital leaders using agile methods for both software development and business execution.

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